Eddie Murphy needs a hit. Badly. Beverly Hills Cop 3 was written by Steven de Souza (the man who scripted Murphy's action hit 48 HRS) and directed by John Landis (the man who shot Trading Places, Murphy's best film to date). The favors have been called in and the hired guns have been paid. If this movie turns out to be a box-office bust, Murphy may be on his way to becoming known as that guy who once hung out with Arsenio and Martin.
Cop 3 opens promisingly, with a taut hijack-doublecross-shootout that segues into a clever and relatively fresh chase scene. For a tantalizing moment you dare to hope it will become the slam-bang, smirking summer shoot-'em-up you suspect Murphy, Landis (who also did Animal House and The Blues Brothers), and de Souza (who scripted the Die Hard films) are capable of. But quicker than you can say Axel Foley, that initial burst of kinetic screen energy fizzles into a lame-o action movie. The odd bits of inspired staging or ingratiating comedy find their way to the screen, but they fade faster than Murphy's Cheshire Cat grin.
This time out the bad guys gun down Foley's boss during a Motor City shootout (he's the only good guy they hit, and then at pointblank range; this is yet another of those movies where legions of criminals firing thousands of rounds from automatic weapons can't hit anyone, but a good guy firing a dinky pistol while engaged in a high-speed chase finds his mark). The villains get away, and Foley follows the slenderest tendril of a clue to an amusement park in (where else?) Southern California. If this were the only arbitrary or improbable plot element in the movie, you might forgive it. But it's just one of many.
The heavy has set up shop in the amusement park; Axel Foley has to infiltrate it, raise some hell, incite gratuitous mayhem, imperil his buddy Billy (Judge Reinhold is back, his character every bit as superfluous as he was in Cop 2), and single-handedly take out as many of the villains as possible. Along the way he cracks wise, infuriates his superiors, solves the case, and flashes his pearly whites whenever things get slow.
Which is, unfortunately, quite often. Landis has some fun with the amusement park setting (including a nifty but totally irrelevant sequence involving a haywire ride and a daring rescue, a set piece based on an attraction that looks a lot like Universal Studios's Earthquake ride, and a climactic shootout in a faux-Jurassic Park tableau, Landis poking gentle fun at directing pal Spielberg). De Souza scripts a clever line or two (although his dialogue still tends toward the "Wax that guy!" and "You're a good cop, but a bit of a maverick" school of action-movie cliche), and Murphy is his usual charming self. It's probably not a good sign, however, when Bronson Pinchot's tiny role as Serge, the effeminate hairdresser from the original Beverly Hills Cop who now sells guns at trade shows from a "survival boutique," is one of the film's highlights.
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Sorry, Eddie. Cop 3 is better than Cop 2 but nowhere near as much fun as the original. It's about time for this flatfoot to consider retirement.